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Published: 2012/04/27
by Dave Weckstein

Cornmeal, Hot Buttered Rum, and Family Groove Company, The Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL – 4/20

Photo by Norman Sands

Cornmeal showed their appreciation immediately for its loyal fanbase of Chicago, the place where the group began as a bluegrass side project in 2000. “We’re proud of where we’re from, and it’s a payback for all those people that supported us when there were four people in the room,” guitarist Kris Nowak said.

Wavy Dave Burlingame (banjo) then took the lead on vocals for “Trouble Gonna Find Me” and “Coming Back Home” during which I thought I detected a Grateful Dead tease. Allie Kral’s fingers moved like lighting over her fiddle’s neck as gracefully she bounced in step to “I Need a Little Help,” with Dave and Kris trading verses on vocals. JP Nowak, high atop his drumming post, never stopped smiling as he exhibited wondrous paradiddle chops without missing a beat. Chris Gangi often grinning looked skyward as he held his svelte stand-up bass like one holds a lady during a waltz. The comfort and stage presence of the collective group makes it that much easier for them to appeal to fans of all experience levels.

After well-wishing and helping get the crowd sing “Happy Birthday” to their manager Ian Goldberg, they brought delivered a bluegrass take on Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin Away.” Then the lights went dark before “Black Smoke Rising” where Allie took things to a haunting ethereal level. It was at this point where it became apparent that my legs were physically exhausted but still they continued to move and twitch as if they had a mind of their own. Cornmeal then kept that bluegrass freight train rolling down the track to “Swing Town” by Steve Miller Band. Everyone around me lent vocals on the chorus as the familiar intro of “oh-woah-aye-oh-aye oooh” got everyone in the mood to come out and dance. “Girl with the Short Brown Hair” closed a crazy second set as the appreciative honky tonk crowd let the band know they still had beer left to drink. The band told them to indulge and came back with HBR and Jordan Wilkow of FGC backlit by a bright green stage for their first encore of “Who’s Got the Reefer.” The second encore then featured a badass dobro guitar solo by Erik Yates as well as Wilkow playing the melodica for another dose of Paul Simon’s with “Know What I Know.”

Gratefully exhausted, the crowd dispersed into a brisk Chicago evening like dust in the wind…Very loud dust, as they raved about an evening in which three groups showcased their ability to create something new and special.

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